Category Archives: Comics

Marvel’s Particular Piracy Situation, Or On Humanism.

Look closely at Marvel’s release schedule, as it switches out artists on their comics, and you’ll see that Marvel is feeding piracy. Okay, so maybe that needs a little explaining. Marvel has developed a habit of replacing their artists intermittently as a way for compensating for double-shipping their issues. As David Brothers is keen to tell you, this process devalues the artists and makes them seem less pivotal to their respective series. It’s a simple trick. If an artist can be switched out at will, then that sends a signal to readers that they aren’t all that integral to the comic they are currently enjoying. And this disregard is ultimately going to make Marvel poorer in the long run.

Pirates like to attack easy targets. Pirates like targets who look invulnerable, tough, ‘the man’ in all its wealth and public faculties. Every time some schlub goes to the flea market and picks up a burned copy of some movie he couldn’t be bothered to copy himself, he justifies it by saying, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” He’ll remind you that given the opportunity to help a small artist in need, he’ll pay up, gladly. See, he’s not hurting people, he’s hurting some rich landlord or a corporation, who makes millions every year anyway. And even then, this is special.  He wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t cheap or free.  He’s only pirating because he’s bored.

That is the excuse of the everyman pirate on Bittorrent or in a flea market, for every game, movie and comic stolen. It’s not hurting anyone who counts.

By changing up its artists, Marvel kind of looks like the big corporation right now. Here’s why. Marvel clearly wants to make fans loyal not to the comic creators, but the comic series. The goal is not to have fans following Mark Waid and Paulo Rivera, they should be following Daredevil. Waid is, or at the very least Marvel would hope you believe, a Marvel man or “Architect”, much like Fraction, Bendis and Hickman. That makes him less of a writer and more of an extension of company ideal. To Marvel, Waid is a medium who can channel intellectual property into cash flow. That view is also why they don’t switch around writers as they do artists. The writers are positioned as extensions of the company. Yet, when Waid eventually leaves to focus on his own comics, or when he goes back to DC, or when he simply gets tired of Daredevil, Marvel does not want Daredevil’s fans to follow Waid away from the series.

Heck, Marvel doesn’t even want people to follow its key architects. I doubt they’ll make a big deal when Hickman takes over for Bendis on the Avengers. Perhaps a comment here, or an interview there on Bendis’ last issue. But they’ll be quick to remind people, “New Avengers out on Wednesday!” Same when Fraction eventually leaves Iron Man, because he’ll run out of stories one day and is replaced with Kieron Gillen (it will happen people).

You can’t really blame Marvel for hoping that people will look for series and not people. First of all, it’s worked fairly well for them in the past, considering how long people stuck around after Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil or Mark Millar’s run on Ultimate X-Men. There’s also the simple math element to it. Writers and artists don’t last as long as comic series do. Marvel wants to keep readers for another fifty years or so, and their characters need to survive beyond their writer’s ability to spin new stories for them. However, by building loyalties to brands and not people, Marvel is going to make it a lot easier to ‘justify’ pirating content from them.

This is entirely wrong as the human element is an easy way to make it harder for that false justification. Let me give you a personal example. I went to TCAF over the weekend for some fun and panels, and maybe a talk to a few creators. While I was meandering around, I see issue 6 of Comic Book Comics readily available. I was a pretty big fan of Ryan Dunlavey’s and Fred Van Lente’s earlier work, Action Philosophers, and was psyched to see the final issue of their new series on the desk. I picked it up and began to casually look through it.

“I can’t wait to see this in a trade,” I mumbled to myself, as I usually do when wandering around booths, trying to grow enough backbone to talk to a writer or an artist.

“Oh really?” A voice said from behind the desk. I turn up, and see, Ryan Dunlavey sitting with a child on his lap. It’s not like I expected to see someone else, but I was a little surprised that he talked to me first. Although I suppose he could have assumed I was talking to him when I blurted out my impatience to see six issues become a book.  Anyway.

“Oh, yeah, I really loved Action Philosophers. I’ve read through every issue. I’ve seen a few samples of this new one floating around the internet and I guess I’ve been waiting for it to be collected.” Of course, I should have added, “Oh by the way, I read all of Action Philosophers on my computer because a friend of mine sent me pirated copies to me over Skype.”

“Good to hear. You can take that issue you’re holding.”

I kind of glared at him in disbelief. “But, I-Are you sure?” I said and without realizing it, reached into my back pocket for my wallet.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I believe you when you say you’re a fan,” he said calmly, before turning his attention back to this kid who was now bouncing on his knee. I mumbled a thank you and then ran to the other side of the room.

I feel  guilty for stealing from Dunlavey and Van Lente, just because it took me an embarrassing conversation for me to realize that I was taking from two (or at least one) extremely decent human beings. I don’t deserve that issue. I just feel too guilty. Though, I am very glad to have it for reasons I will get to in a moment.

You can see my point, creating empathy between the creators and the public is how you make them want to purchase a comic, or feel bad about stealing. No one is going to care or feel guilt about pirating a comic if they think they’re stealing from the brand of a faceless corporation. I don’t care about Marvel. Marvel isn’t my friend. Marvel is a creature that for over fifty years has treated its creators as disposable parts of the comic creating process. If anything, I’m prone to make Marvel the guy I avoid at the annual corporo-humanoid dance party.

Let me eliminate some misconceptions for a second. I’m not trying to validate pirating in any form against Marvel, DC or any corporation. Just that it will be far more likely if the perpetrators think they are stealing from of a million dollar corporate hierarchy instead of individuals. Nor am I saying that building a connection, like the one I accidentally formed with Dunlavey, is the catch-all solution to solving piracy. Louis CK released his comedy album for only five dollars online with a personal pledge that he hoped people would be honest and not pirate his work. They still did. But the connection between a creator and consumer still earned him a million bucks. Course, there’s a further caveat to that. Louis CK was a well-established comedian with his own TV show. People knew who he was before he released his album. As for someone unknown using the same technique, there probably wouldn’t be nearly as many sales and more people would pirate it. So the system ain’t all hunky-dory as I’d like to propose.

Yet, Marvel does make enough that instead of trying to hide its artists and trying to absorb its writers, it could bring them to the forefront. Don’t show them as ‘Marvel Architects.’ Marvel should try to showcase their unique abilities, personalities and interests. Treat them like you would treat any author, not some medium through which the corporate IP flows.  Connecting the audience to actual people will bring greater respect for creators, and bring a greater respect to comics as a whole. It is only through mature dealings with the creators, will the rest of society then see that comics, as a medium, have matured.

Fred Van Lente says it best at the end of Comic Book Comics issue 6, as he explains how he believes the comics industry in the US has to move forward in the coming years:

“Discarding the “Pennies Business” demands more respect of the medium and creators. It robs pirates of one of their most potent weapons—The self-serving delusion they’re “Sticking it to the man” and hurting only evil faceless corporations and not middle-class folks just like them. There will always be a market for free stuff with no consequences. But as corny as it sounds, putting a human face on those who produce what the Torrent Generation consumers will be a more effective curb than trying to sue them into submission.”

Summarized into fewer than ninety words, that is exactly what I am trying to say. Marvel and DC by hiding creators, or trying to mask them under a corporate brand, is only encouraging piracy. I only really talked about Marvel’s actions, but DC’s Before Watchmen is just as disingenuous if not more so. They both need to get their acts together and start celebrating their real employees as much as their fictional characters. It’s the only way they’re going to get fans to feel actual guilt for stealing.

Finally, thank you Ryan Dunlavey, and I’m sorry. Just give me a second to pre-order Comic Book Comics from Amazon. I’ll pay this time, I promise.

Comic Book Industry Hopes to Rebound Through Digital Distribution

Thousands of fans and collectors rushed into a comic book store to witness the death of an icon. They had seen it on the news, heard it on the radio, been told by their friends. Superman was dead. The cover of Superman 75 showed Superman’s torn cape blowing in the wind like a flag, while his family and friends wept in the background.

On this day in 1992, a single store in Detriot sold nearly 200 000 copies of a comic, as consumers raced to pick up that issue. The store began to see that they were running out of issues, so they marked the prices up higher and higher. By the end of the day, the issue that had started off at a $1.50 was going for twenty times its original price. This was a common sight in comic book stores across North America.

DC Comics, publisher of Superman, and comic book retailers made around $30 million in one day. This was the third time an American comic book publisher had hit the jackpot. It was also the last.

It was clear by the end of that same year that the comic market was shrinking. Sales dropped, the collectors cashed out and sent the whole system into what Grant Morrison, a writer at DC Comics, called “a death spiral.”

However, comic book creators see a way out of this tail spin through a new distribution system: the internet. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Justice League 1

The cover of Justice League 1 invites you in bold gold text to DC Comic’s “New 52”. It’s not just the headline either. The costumes look different, the attitude looks different, and we’ve even got a brand new logo for it. It’s too bad that the actual content doesn’t feel all that different. Geoff Johns provides a serviceable first issue that works as a good opener to the New DC, without trying too hard.  It’s an enjoyable read, but nothing substantial.

Justice League 1 opens big. Batman is running across rooftops trying to catch a bad guy while Gotham helicopters fly above, chasing him as if he was another criminal. The monster is about to get away, when Green Lantern smashes the beast into the ground with a green firetruck. It does the trick, but now the police see them. Batman vulnerable and the Green Lantern in plain sight, the helicopters turn their guns and fire. It’s good stuff, it just ends far too early to mean anything. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Flashpoint 5

Flashpoint is one of the least impressive stories about the Flash. I want to get this out of the gate immediately. Flashpoint can hardly be called a story, it’s more like staring out of a car window as scenery passes you by. There was always great potential here, perhaps even the beginning of a great Flash story. It’s just so damning on writer Geoff Johns that he could not use this interesting new world to any greater extent than undeserved shock moments and window dressing. Johns has had an impressive run of comics so far, but this is easily his weakest. A reader will rarely be so underwhelmed by Barry Allen than in Flashpoint.

Let’s recap the story so far. There’s an alternate universe and the Flash is going to fix it with Thomas Wayne Batman. This is all that happens. There is no character development. You don’t learn anything new about Barry Allen or Thomas Wayne. There is semi-witty banter followed by screaming and death. It’s a slideshow almost, like the ones your grandparents show you about their trip to Milan. And like watching their grandparents’ trip, the reader will have the same reaction, boredom and disappointment. Read the rest of this entry

Review: The Ultimates 1

As I’ve stated throughout this website, I am a great fan of the Ultimates. I read all of Ultimates vol. 1 in a day, and from then on prayed every month that Mark Millar will finally get an issue done on time. Millar has since turned into a bad taste in my mouth, due to some questionable writing choices in his independent comics and his more or less apathy to his remaining Marvel comics.  This is no reflection the Ultimates, but boy, am I happy that someone who isn’t Jeph Loeb is finally getting their hands on this series.

To counter my dear love for original Ultimates series, I should also note my tepid reception of Jonathan Hickman. Despite owning most of his independent work, I have grown tired of him since discovering that he writes every single comic with the same unsubtle underlying themes.

With my own biases aside, I will now say that “The Ultimates” 1 (now finally an ongoing series) is an amazing first issue. The plot continues from Ultimate Fallout and Avengers vs. New Ultimates (though you don’t need to read those series to understand what’s going on here). Nick Fury is director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and organization which has expanded past the United States-mandate into an organization that spans the globe. The Ultimates, a team run by S.H.I.E.L.D., includes Thor, Hawkeye, Iron Man and, perhaps most significantly, not Captain America. Fury is shown to nearly have a personal empire as he commands some of the most powerful people on the planet. However, Fury fails to realize that in his expansion, he may have over-extended his reach. Read the rest of this entry

Quick Review: Batman Incorperated 8

This is one of the worst things Grant Morrison has ever written. Search the Internet for spoilers, avoid the actual issue like the plague if you can. The writing is mediocre, and the art burns your eyes with the heat of a thousand suns. The issue is more or less nonsensical. Despite his attempts to make the internet look like a video game, Morrison has little to no understanding as to how a video game works. A better artist might have saved this issue, but as it stands, it only contains the worst parts of Morrison’s habits and the art of a sociopath bent on the destruction of humanity.

If you want, I can give you the only reason to read this comic right here: Jezebel Jet is alive and works for Leviathan.

There, now you never need to wonder what happened.

Score: SATAN/5

Review: Batman: Gates of Gotham 1-5

Scott Snyder has proven himself with American Vampire and his run on Detective Comics to be one DC’s best writers. Gates of Gotham, however, is not quite at that level. It is by no means bad or unreadable but it doesn’t capture the same thrill and intrigue that his other comics have done.

The story of Gates of Gotham regards the destruction of Gotham’s landmarks, where the city becomes a character in a plot that spans decades of its history. Batman (Dick Grayson) and all of his allies must stop whoever is responsible and discover their motives before Gotham becomes unrecognizable. The best attributes of the story are its characters and how it elaborates on Gotham’s past. I really enjoyed seeing Damien antagonize Cassandra Cain, and  Tim Drake’s wit and Dick trying to hold all three of them together. They all make the story interesting and better realized. Read the rest of this entry

Video: DC’s “New 52” Commericial is Out, and Reminds Us of 90s

I have been telling everyone I can that in order for DC’s new 52 initiative to be a success they need average people to know. Not comic book fans, not sci-fi nerds, not software engineers. DC needs anyone who doesn’t regularly read comics, but could, given they knew it existed and was a valid medium of expression. And when I write needs, I mean needs. They have been spending far too much money for their initiative to be a flop. Whether or not they succeed is going to determine the fate of the company and whether it can take any risks in the future. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Daredevil 2

Mark Waid is on his second issue of Daredevil and things are looking good. Waid has relaunched the title with a shocking amount of hope and optimism compared to the Frank Miller inspired years that have preceded this. The first issue brought the revelation that Daredevil could actually enjoy life, and have fun in his job. The second issue continues that though is not quite as entertaining as the first. The main problem is that not much happens in this issue. Captain America runs after Daredevil because of events surrounding the Shadowland mess, and then there’s Murdoch dealing with his case.

This is a tad unfair, since Waid continues to do write the series well. The dialogue’s great, some of the banter is funny, and personally, I’m glad Daredevil’s stopped talking like the Marvel version of Batman. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Hellboy The Storm and The Fury Miniseries

I am not a big Hellboy fan. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the series because it is a deviation from the norm. It’s one of the biggest name comics in North America that doesn’t have a superhero on its cover. And, in its core, it is more about atmosphere and intrigue than it is about dudes punching each other out. The most daunting thing about Hellboy has always been the ten volumes I’d have to read to catch up, along with whatever was going on in the BPRD spin-off. So, when I heard that Hellboy The Storm and The Fury were entirely approachable having only read the first volume, I jumped on, and what I found is probably one of the best ‘event’ comics Read the rest of this entry